Anxiety and Heart Health: Understanding the Connection

February Heart Month Dealing with Anxiety image

It’s safe to say that nobody enjoys feeling stressed. However, our “fight or flight” response does serve a purpose. When we find ourselves in a situation that requires us to be extra alert and vigilant, and ready to take action, the change in our mental and physical state brought on by the response is just what we need. According to Wikipedia, some of the many physiological changes that take place as a cascade of hormones races through our body include:

  • Acceleration of heart and lung action
  • Inhibition of stomach and upper-intestinal action to the point where digestion slows down or stops
  • Constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body
  • Dilation of blood vessels in the muscles
  • Liberation of metabolic energy sources (particularly fat and glycogen) for muscular action
  • Dilation of pupil (mydriasis)

You can see how these reactions would help our ancestors survive when faced with a threat. However, our fight or flight response is meant to be temporary and based on actual threats. It becomes a problem when a person with anxiety experiences these physiological changes on a regular or continuous basis due to what they perceive as potential threats. In that case, the surging or sustained “readiness” in the body’s system can actually cause damage to them.

February is American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month, and a great time to learn about the relationship between anxiety and heart health. According to Johns Hopkins, the correlation is not as well-defined as that between depression and heart health, but it is believed there is a direct connection.

Heart Attacks and Anxiety

It’s easy to understand how anxiety can impact the heart as described above. The flip side of that relationship is fairly straightforward as well, especially for anyone who has had a heart attack or who has a loved one who has. The shock of a life-threatening event can cause you to:

  • Worry about your health and the fact that another cardiac event could occur
  • Worry about your family and how the outcome of your health challenges will affect them
  • Lose sleep and experience the many consequences of not being rested
  • Frequently relive the event, especially when at the location or participating in the activity related to it
  • Have a very negative outlook regarding your future

In short, you can find yourself in a perpetual state of anxiety. And, unfortunately, that state is not helpful as your body tries to recover from the heart attack.

Take Action

So, what can you do to avoid the vicious circle of heart disease and anxiety? Your doctor can work with you to reduce your risk of a heart attack. This will include minimizing or eliminating risk factors such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • SmokingDiabetes
  • Diabetes
  • Being physically inactive
  • Being overweight/obese

As for anxiety, if you feel you have an ongoing problem with stress,  working with a therapist at a Denver mental health center for a few sessions can definitely help. There are also a number of stress-reducing steps you can take, including:

  • Pause and take some deep breaths
  • Take a walk to remove yourself from the stressful situation
  • Perform a regular stress-reducing activity like meditation or yoga
  • Practice positive self-talk (“I’ve got this.” “This stress is temporary.” “Things will work out.”)
  • Work on being “in the moment” meaning you are totally focused on what’s happening right now
  • Get regular exercise

A Ready Resource for Helping Alleviate Anxiety

Whether it’s anxiety that might lead to a heart attack or anxiety that develops after a heart attack, Community Reach Center is your Denver mental health center here to help you manage it. Contact us online at or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.